The Gospel vaccine

This morning I read a phrase that sums up nicely how vaccines work:

Image“Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents and stimulating the immune system to build up defenses against them.”

Now, we may have differing opinions as to whether or not we should go get the latest flu vaccine – that depends on how you want to Google the side effects – but I am seeing another vaccine that works very powerfully to prevent a certain condition from taking place.

 I live in Guatemala, a land of abundant churches. Our statistics show that somewhere around 40-50% of the population consider themselves to be born-again Christians. I used to ask God why he keeps me here when there are so many other places where the Gospel is not so available.

 I don’t ask that question any more. When I really opened my eyes to see the situation, I began to seriously question these statistics. If half of the population is following the teachings of Jesus, desiring to please him, praying and searching the scriptures for truth to guide their lives, then why is corruption and violence so common here that nobody even questions it? I know few people, if anyone, that haven’t been robbed at some time in their lives. Even within the churches, adultery, fornication, and domestic violence of all types is not uncommon.  I could go on and on but I will save you from having to read more; you can imagine.

 Yet at every traffic signal you will find banners advertising this and that church event, conference, prophetic convocation, Christian concert, etc… right next to the banners for some club’s drinking bash with half-naked girls all over it. What a contrast.

 These days you hear the word “viral” frequently, especially referring to some YouTube video. In the first-century church faith was viral. People were “infected” with the Good News and went on to show all of the genuine symptoms of the condition. But what I am finding here is that many people are vaccinated against the Gospel – back to the description of a vaccine – with a message that “…mimics disease agents and stimulates the immune system to build up defenses against them.”

 This is already getting long so I won’t go into how I believe this has happened. Maybe next time. But the point is, it is downright dangerous to build up immunity to the only medicine that will save your life.

 So what can we do to infect people with the good news of peace? How can we shake people out of their comfortable, convenient religion to see the living God? I seek God about these questions every day. I am getting some ideas but I would love to hear your opinion too…

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Multiple choice, 2 questions:

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1. We who are strong ought to _______ the weaknesses of others and not _______ ourselves.

a) correct, grow

b) publicize, identify

c) bear, please

d) criticize, change

 

2. Each of us is to _______ his neighbor for his good, to his edification.

a) teach

b) evangelize

c) judge

d) please

 

Enough said. (Answer key: Romans 15:1-2)

In spite of a mother’s dreams…

Early this morning as I returned home from a school run, I was thanking God for the location of the apartment where I live; it is centrally located in a busy commercial area of the city. Almost anything I need day to day is within walking distance. My place is easy to find and not intimidating for anyone to visit, without the gates and armed guards that many other residences have here in Guatemala.

I also appreciate not being so insulated from contact with people from all walks of life. Here, contrasts abound; a block away is one of the most elegant restaurants in the city, but on the way there you walk by a house of prostitution, complete with its neon sign. Image

God used this setting this morning to break my heart with a sight that is unfortunately very common here, but this time it struck me differently; across the street from where I parked my car there sat a middle aged man on the sidewalk, drunk and sleeping (I hope!). He sat in a pool of urine. What broke my heart was that God sparked in my imagination a day some decades ago when a woman gave birth to a precious baby boy, the love of her life. I imagined this woman’s hopes and dreams for her son as she held him to her breast and rocked him to sleep. In her mind he would be a doctor, a scientist, or even president… never did she imagine that he would end up ruining his life with alcohol and find himself at the very bottom of society.

I type this with tears. We must realize that God loves each of us, even more than the most devoted mother; his opinion of us never changes. His purposes for our lives remain. He is always ready to lift anybody out of whatever pit they have allowed themself to end up in; by his great grace and mercy he is willing and able to restore anyone to the place that he intended for them.

God help us to see each human being this way, and allow ourselves to be used by him to restore to people the dignity and purpose that he has always desired for them. 

Spiritual midwives?

And it was of His own [free] will that He gave us birth [as sons] by [His] Word of Truth, so that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures [a sample of what He created to be consecrated to Himself]. (James 1:8 Amplified)

I have never heard of a baby having anything to do with their being born, but yet many people seem to have the idea that they participated in their spiritual birth, like some sort of spiritual midwife. They attribute their new birth to their act of accepting, believing, confessing, deciding, etc. Somehow I am a bit uncomfortable with this; I think that is taking too much credit for what has happened. This same verse in James says that the Father did it by his will, not by ours.Image

And yet I know that we do have something to do with the process. God does not just take over a person’s entrance into his family, we must take some action. I think that our action has more to do with dying; beginning with our understanding of our status of being dead in sin. The Law of God had the purpose of exposing sin by showing man that he is unable to keep it. We are made aware of our spiritual death and our utter need for God. According to this verse in James the Word of Truth is the agent by which we are born of God, thereby making him our Father. But I think it is significant to note that we do not cause our new birth.

So why does this make any difference? Isn’t it just enough to know that we are part of God’s family, without having to worry about the details? I believe that these details matter very much. I have seen so many people that have very little idea what it really means to be a new creature, to have passed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. It is obvious when they can’t even begin to explain the change in their own life, if indeed there has been one. It is true that we don’t necessarily need to understand all of the theological implications of the matter to be a child of God, but unless a person really understands that they were dead spiritually, I may doubt that their rebirth has really taken place.

I would be inclined to believe that our part in the process is more in accepting the fact that we were dead. (Romans 6 and 7 play this out in detail.) When we find out that we were included in Jesus’ death, and that his death destroyed the power of our sinful nature, this realization causes us to cry out to God for salvation. Only then can we born of God. After that the process of dying – or of considering ourselves to be dead to the old nature – is an ongoing process for the rest of our lives on earth.

With all this, it is not my intention to judge people as to whether or not they are born again. Rather, I am concerned that many may have only accepted a belief, repeated a prayer, or joined a religion rather than having experienced a real regeneration and rebirth into God’s family.

I believe that this difference is a matter of spiritual life or death. What do you think?